Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave has opened a sold-out Web Summit in Lisbon with a searing criticism of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
The conference organiser used the centre stage to project giant images of a Village Magazine cover describing Mr Varadkar as a “law breaker”.
He invited Village Magazine editor Michael Smith along with Chay Bowes and John Tighe who were involved in publishing the story behind the magazine cover onto the stage and asked the crowd in the vast Altice Arena, which included senior Portuguese government officials and global technology chiefs, to give the men a round of applause.
Mr Cosgrave made the intervention as a precursor to the opening night’s main event, an interview with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
It is Mr Cosgrave’s most public speech yet against Mr Varadkar. The tech conference founder has used his Twitter account to levy accusations against the Tánaiste for the last 12 months.
The original article in the Village in 2020 triggered a criminal investigation into the now Tánaiste’s leaking of a document in April 2019 related to negotiations for a new General Practitioner contract.
At the time Mr Varadkar was the Taoiseach. The central allegation is that he improperly shared a confidential copy of a proposed new GP contract to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, a friend of Mr Varadkar and member of a GP representative body not involved in the negotiations.
As well as the Garda investigation the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has also been asked to review the case.
As part of their investigation Gardaí have examined information passed to them by Chay Bowes and Paddy Cosgrave, who had introduced Mr Bowes, a healthcare entrepreneur, to Michael Smith, the editor of Village Magazine which first reported on the document leak.
The controversy has dogged the Tánaiste, who has apologised over the leak but has said he believes, based on legal advice, he had not committed an offence. Events in Lisbon show he has yet to out the issue behind him.
Before his dramatic shift to the Irish political controversy Paddy Cosgrave had arrived on stage seeming nervous but ebullient. After almost two years of Covid, an event his company had told investors could prove “catastrophic”, the Web Summit was back in a sold-out Lisbon conference centre.
Even if the capacity was down to little more than half of what it welcomed through its doors in 2019, there was a buzz in the Altice Arena.
Many Irish tech leaders are also in the Portuguese capital for the event, from former RTÉ anchorman Mark Little to the Manna Aero drone king, Bobby Healy, to seasoned investors such as Brian Caulfield.
The opening night headline speaker was the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who has been on a tour of legislatures and congregations for the last three weeks.
Other big names to speak this week include internet creator Tim Berners-Lee, Microsoft president Brad Smith and Hollywood actress Amy Poehler.
The real headline speaker, however, is Apple’s Craig Federighi, the tech giant’s second most senior executive, after Tim Cook.
For most attendees, the real draw of the Web Summit is the ground-level networking that comes from it.
This will be most concentrated at an invitation-only gathering called Founders. This is where Mr Cosgrave’s team do what they do best – bring together relatively powerful people to create a rare networking opportunity.